March 11, 2023
From The Militant

MAUI, Hawaii — Over 500 hospital workers walked out and set up picket lines Feb. 22 at the Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital here. The strikers, members of United Public Workers Local 646, voted by 97% to reject the hospitals’ “last, best and final offer” after eight months of failed contract negotiations.

The nurses’ aides, therapists, technicians, groundskeepers, housekeepers, cooks, laundry workers and others say wage increases and hiring more workers are their key demands.

Kaiser Permanente acquired the three hospitals six years ago and has since cut back workers’ sick days, personal time off and staffing. Management floats workers between departments to fill the inevitable holes in their coverage.

Picket lines at the main hospital entrances are lively, with music and food cooked by the workers. Strikers are putting in eight-hour shifts to maintain the lines 24/7. A roving van drives between picket locations to relieve strikers, and deliver water and food.

“People and the community have been very kind, bringing food, stopping by to give support, donating their time and walking with the picket line,” Tamara Manley, a picket captain, told the Militant. “This is not about greed or money, this is about everybody being treated with dignity and respect. We want to end short staffing and the mandatory 16-hour days.”

“The hospital didn’t value the hard work and commitment that nurses’ aides, technicians and cooks were doing,” said Elen Quema, a housekeeper at Maui Memorial Medical Center. “During the pandemic, all the jobs were understaffed. They said we shouldn’t complain, just follow the rules.”

The effects of the strike are being felt in the hospitals as trash pickups, changing linens and room cleanings aren’t covered. “We provided the hospital with 10 days’ advance notice of the strike,” said United Public Workers’ Hawaii State Director Kalani Werner. “They try to operate business as usual.”

“You know the saying, ‘You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,’” registered nurse Jennifer Alakai told the media, explaining how nurses were changing linens and taking out trash. Alakai said she supported the strike and had walked the picket lines.

“We are doing this for the next generation,” said Maui Memorial Medical Center housekeeper Margarita Javalde.

The United Public Workers union was founded in 1944 by Hawaiian plantation workers determined to win better wages, hours and conditions of work. They were inspired by the success of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union’s organizing efforts.

The union won the right to collective bargaining for public-sector workers in 1970. The union then affiliated with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and today represents some 13,000 workers.

Union members from other AFSCME locals, Hawaii Government Employees Association, United Nurses Associations of California, Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ Local 630 and the longshore union have joined the pickets.